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Public Statements

Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 Conference Report-Continued

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

PARTIAL-BIRTH ABORTION BAN ACT OF 2003 CONFERENCE REPORT—CONTINUED

Ms. CANTWELL. Madam. President, I rise today to express my opposition to the conference report to S. 3 the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. This is an unconstitutional piece of legislation that puts women's lives in jeopardy.
Supporters of this bill will argue that this legislation bans only one procedure but this is not the case. Make no mistake about it. This bill puts us on a path outlawing abortion. The language in this bill is vague, and this law could be used to ban other safe and legal procedures. Moreover, this legislation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to choose by banning abortion procedures at any stage in a woman's pregnancy. This bill does not only ban post-viability abortions, it unconstitutionally restricts women's rights regardless of where the woman is in her pregnancy.

In 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court found that women have a constitutional right to choose. However, after the
point of viability—the point at which a baby can live outside its mother's body—States may ban abortions as long as they allow exceptions when a woman's life or health is in danger. The bill before us, however, restricts abortions before viability and it does not include a health exception. Let me repeat that. This bill is fundamentally flawed because it does not protect
the women when her health is in danger.

In June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the importance of this health exception in Stenberg v. Carhart, which determined that a Nebraska law banning the performance of so-called "partial birth" abortions was unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.

The Supreme Court has stated unequivocally that every abortion restriction, including bans on so-called "partial-birth abortion," must contain a health exception. The Court emphasized that, by failing to provide a health exception, the Nebraska law would place a woman's life in danger. That is exactly what the legislation before us today does as well: it places a woman's life in danger.

Despite the Supreme Court's very clear mandate, this underlying legislation does not provide an exception for the health of the mother. For this reason, this legislation, like the measure that was struck down in Stenberg, is unconstitutional.

I am very disappointed that this conference report does not include language passed by the Senate that abortion has been a legal and constitutionally protected medical procedure throughout the United States since the Supreme Court decision in
Roe v. Wade; and that the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade established constitutionally based limits on the power of states to restrict the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

Furthermore, the amendment firmly laid out the sense of the Senate that the decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right and that the decision should not be overturned.

I fundamentally believe that private medical decisions should be made by women in consultation with their doctors—not politicians. These decisions include the methods by which a physician chooses to treat his or her patients. Why should we decide that here on the Senate floor? Congressional findings cannot possibly make up for medical consultation between a patient and her doctor. This bill, however, would undermine a physician's ability to determine the best course of treatment for a patient.

Physicians must be free to make clinical determinations, in accordance with medical standards of care, that best safeguard a woman's life and health. Women and their families, along with their doctors, are simply better than politicians at making decisions about their medical care. And I don't want to make those decisions for other women.

During the course of this debate we heard painful stories about women who were anxiously awaiting the birth of a child when something went horribly wrong. We heard true stories of women who were devastated when they discovered that their child had severe health problems and would not survive. We heard stories about women who wanted to complete their pregnancy and were told by their physicians that, should they do so, they would put their health at risk. The truth is that this is a heartbreaking, painful, personal decision that should be made by solely a woman with the advice of her doctor.

I trust the health care providers and organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Medical Women's Association who oppose this ban. These physicians know their patients, they know their stories, and the painful choices that many make, and they know that this ban is wrong. Most importantly, I trust the women in my State and around this country to make the decision that is right for them. During such a difficult, private time, women should be surrounded by those who love and support them. Women should not have to listen to rhetoric that demonizes their heartbreak, but should be able to receive medically accurate information from a trusted health care professional.

Three States, including my home State of Washington, have considered similar bans by referendum. All three failed. We considered this debate in my home State in 1998. The referendum failed decisively—by a vote of 57 to 43 percent.

These so-called "partial-birth" abortion bans—whether the proposals that have been before the Senate in the past or the one before us today—are deliberately designed to erode the protections of Roe v. Wade, at the expense of women's health and at the expense of a woman's right to privacy.

The Supreme Court, during the 30 years since it recognized the right to choose, has consistently required that, when a State restricts access to abortion, a woman's health must be the absolute consideration. This legislation does not only disavow the Supreme Court's explicit directive, but the advice of the medical community, and the will of the American people. We must continue to ensure that the women of America have the right to privacy and receive the best medical attention available.

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